Or is it? I'm not sure...maybe...what do you think??

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas is coming...

"Peace on earth and goodwill to all men" sang the angels that first Christmas.  

What would they have thought if they could have foreseen our typically frenetic approach to the event?  Would even an angel keep its composure in our 21st century Christmas? 
When faced with writing hundreds of Christmas cards to long-abandoned friends, baking dozens of mince pies, and frantically checking the e-mail updates on those elusive on-line orders, only to spend the day itself cooking and clearing up after people we wouldn't normally choose to spend a day with?!

Sometimes it seems impossible that we could find peace and joy in the heart of all the bustle and preparation.

And yet there are those precious moments hidden away amongst the busyness.   The not-so-muffled-whispers of excited children early on Christmas morning.   The wide eyes of a loved one opening a present they'd longed for but not expected to get.  The sudden, awkward hug of that annoying family member that did appreciate spending the day with you after all.

So this year I am making a mental catalogue of the things that are special to me, in an attempt to keep my heart warm and my head a little clearer.  I am sifting through my memories, and pulling out and admiring those moments I treasure: my son trying to decide whether he was most excited about his presents or our traditional Christmas Eve holly hunt; singing carols together by the warming shimmer of candlelight; waking up to my husband on Christmas Day and knowing that we still love being together; seeing the glow on my children's faces when they discover their magically-filled stockings (even though one of them isn't sure he believes in Santa anymore).   The amazing truth that we have a God who loves us so much that he would consider taking on the limitations of a baby, to be born in a smelly cowshed, in occupied territory.

It doesn't make the preparations any less; but it makes me smile whilst I work through them - both in gratitude for moments passed, and in anticipation of the new treasures that may be my presents this year.

A Happy Christmas to All.   See you in 2011!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

I Just Can't Help Myself...

My name is Eliza and I am a self-help-aholic.
There, I've said it, made my confession.  Despite all rational thoughts to the contrary (and my husband's silent despair) I am a sucker for self-help.

A look at my bookshelf gives this away.  How to be more organised, Feeling Good, 10 Steps to Positive Living, How to Stop Worying - there they all sit, a testament to various tried and abandoned attempts at self improvement over the last couple of decades.

Fortunately I've been happily married for most of that time so I've skipped the Men are From Mars, Women who love too much section.   But motherhood brings its own neuroses so I've been able to add How to raise happy children, The Baby Whisperer et al.  Throw in a few Christian titles and I've got quite a collection.

I have tried to give it up before.  A purge of my bookshelves a few years ago saw a number of happiness manuals bite the dust.  

But I noticed this week, when trying to clear out the paper rack, that I seem to have moved on to what you might call "self-help lite".  I have a backlog of magazines that I've saved because of a tempting headline of the "transform your life in 5 minutes" variety.  From weight loss, to happiness, to decluttering the house, I've hung on to a whole stack of publications in the hope that those few glossy pages are going to make all the difference.

A small part of my brain knows just throwing those magazines away would be a good move towards the "simplyfying my life" that the articles promise.  And I am going to.  Honestly.  When I've just read this one more...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Smiling through the snow

Outside my window is a winter wonderland of gleaming white.  Schools are closed, the buses have stopped running, everything is grinding to a halt in the face of all this innocent-seeming fluffy whiteness.

But a strange thing seems to have happened.   Not only has the snow transformed the landscape, it seems to have transformed the people too.

The snow has made us all slow down - it is just not possible to rush around at break neck speed.  Suddenly we start to see which of our commitments are really vital and which we can live without.  In particular, driving has become so difficult that we have all started walking more: to school (when its open), to the local shops, the local cafe.   Life has become simpler and closer to home.

Most noticeably, people have started talking to each other.   In the shops, or just passing in the streets we smile, we stop and speak to one another - about the weather, about how we are managing, if anyone needs any help.  Neighbours look out for each other, families gather together in front of the fire.

It is not that the snow doesn't have negatives, of course it does: passengers trapped on trains or in their cars, disruption to work, dangerous conditions.   But in the face of all these difficulties it seems that we have the ability to pull together and to start to see what is really important.

It makes me wonder whether there isn't a way to try to replicate these feelings, without needing some sort of crisis to bring us to it.  As Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver observes "It oughtn't to need a war to make us talk to each other in buses, and invent our own amusements in the evenings, and live simply, and eat sparingly, and recover the use of our legs, and get up early enough to see the sun rise."

So maybe the real challenge for us all is to keep smiling, keep talking, keep walking, when the snow is no longer with us.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! (but not too much)

We woke this morning, like many people, to a truly wintry world.  Snow already lightly covering gardens, cars, streets and houses, and more flakes falling fluffily through the sky.

It has already been a long night in our house, with less sleep and more sickness than one could want, and the snow, though predicted, seemed like a final nail in the coffin of my being able to face the day.

But then the children got up.  From stumbling around like zombies, one mention of the word "snow" was enough to lift their heads, brighten their faces and send them running to the windows to see if it had truly happened.

All through breakfast they were constantly checking the progress of the snow across the patio outside.   All the way to school they marvelled at the new white world and pointed out to each other this or that feature: a normally unnoticed part of our trip now seen in a new way because of its icy, sugary coating.

I thought, how wonderful it is to be a child, and to see snow as only a good thing!   To not care about what it means for journey times or scarily skidding cars, wet feet or busy getting-too-fro-ness, but to just be happy that the snow had returned and the transformation had once again happened: the magic wand of winter had been waved and changed our dreary world into a bright and sparkling Christmas grotto.

And so I resolved to try to put away my middle-aged grumpiness and, at least for today, enjoy the world for how it is, and take pleasure in it where I can.   And now the sun is shining.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Domestic Goddess (not)

I've never claimed to be a Domestic Goddess.   Mainly because it would be laughable.

I keep everyone in clean clothes (just about), I feed everyone, I remember all the random things my children need to take into school (so far this term one of them has needed kitchen roll, empty crisp packets and a pair of tights).  Every so often I rouse myself to a particular domestic flourish, usually for the children - an otter shaped birthday cake, dinosaurs hidden in jelly...
But we do not live in a Nigella type world where the house is immaculate yet welcoming, the kitchen always smells of something delightful baking, and I always look alluring.  

I am, however, developing a suspicion that it is time to raise my game a little bit.

I confessed to a friend recently to using a baby wipe to clean the sink when visitors were about to descend and it needed a bit of a sparkle.   The baby wipe was to hand, it cleans and it smells nice, so fitted the bill nicely.     Foolishly I couldn't resist adding "I don't know why I don't use baby wipes to clean the whole house".   Now, my friend tells me, whenever she uses a baby wipe (actually for wiping her baby's bottom as she's a more sensible soul), she thinks of me cleaning with them.
Oh well, I thought, at least she thinks I'm cleaning!

Now these happen to be the same friends that we often used to meet up with of an evening for a chinese meal, courtesy of the local takeaway restaurant.   The idea behind this was that we were all busy people and this way we got to see each other without anyone needing to have the time or stress of planning a proper dinner.

Then, a few days ago I got a text saying "thinking of you, as we're having a takeaway".

I then realised that, at least as far as this friend goes, my domestic image consists of baby-wipe cleaning and ordering takeaways.   Great!

Obviously when I am a famous novelist it will be perfectly acceptable for me and my family to live in eccentric chaos whilst I type away on my latest great work amidst the muddled piles of interesting and inspiring artefacts around me.

For now, however, since my children are both at school, my only excuse for lack of housework is...well, me

So I'm off to find my mop and duster.    I may never make it to Domestic Goddess, but I might just get promoted from Domestic Devil to Domestic Mortal.   

Friday, 12 November 2010

Light in the darkness

The nights are drawing in now - by tea time it is hard to see very far down the garden, and the hens have tucked themselves away for the night.   As the darkness increases, we start to realise how much we value the light.

We had a bonfire party with some friends last week.  It was a good old-fashioned affair, much inspired by the Enid Blyton that is essential reading in our house at the moment.   There was a glowing bonfire; hot, salty, buttery jacket potatoes and home-made toffee apples, with crunchy and spectacularly shaped sugar coatings.  Fireworks shot into the sky and danced around the garden.   Sparklers crackled and wrote names of fire.  We even had a home made Guy, something of a rarity these days (especially as we live in Mr Fawkes home town), who went up in flames briskly and very satisfactorily; with only the metal button from his jeans to be found the following morning.

Speaking to friends from other countries I was interested to discover whether or not they celebrated Bonfire Night - surely they must not care very much about a failed attempt to blow up our politicians over 400 years ago?   It seems that for many the fireworks element has moved to join up with the Halloween celebrations, maybe a joint rally against the forces of darkness.

This week the children have been learning at school about Diwali, a Hindu celebration known as the "festival of lights".   It celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance.

It started me thinking about how each culture had found a different path to bringing bright lights into the depressing darkness of these early days of winter.  The days where we feel the seasons turning and need something to remind ourselves that the light is still there.

I used to love this time of year as a child when, out walking round the streets, you would see the lights shining from the windows and catch a glimpse of each house's inner life: families eating tea, playing games, or watching the flickering light of the tv screen.
But it makes me wonder; for during the day, those same scenes wouldn't have the same fascination.   It is the darkness that makes the light shine out.

Is the same true for us in life?  Is it the dark days that make us appreciate the shining, light filled moments of happiness even more?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

To blog or not to blog

So here's the thing...I've been thinking about blogging for a long time but never gone for it before.    I guess I'm a sort of "in-between" generation where technology is concerned: love having it in day-to-day life (where would we be without our apps?), but not yet reached the point of tweeting what I'm having for breakfast.

What would I say in a blog?  Would anyone be interested?   Do I really want to expose my day-to-day experiences to anyone and everyone?   Will my friends still speak to me if I do?

But...like many people out there, I have this idea of being a writer.   I have lots of ideas for those fantastic novels I'm going to write, and my computer stores a fair few Chapter 1s and even the odd Chapter 2 or 3.   I've even read books and signed up for correspondence courses.  

Those of you who've done the same will know the most common piece of advice given by actual, bona fide, published, successful writers is: just sit down and do it!

So, can I do it?   Can I sit down and write a blog every week?   Or will my ambivalence, lack of confidence and abismal time management scupper me once again?

Let's see...